ASTRAL UNDERSTANDING

The best place to spend the Fall Equinox is at a Mayan pyramid

The sun is setting on fall.
The sun is setting on fall.
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
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Ready your pumpkin spice lattes, mooncakes, and passport—the Fall Equinox is upon us. Otherwise known as the Autumnal Equinox, the Sept. 22 event marks the beginning of fall in the Northern hemisphere, and the beginning of spring in the South.

Here’s everything you need to know about the astronomical phenomenon.

What is the Fall Equinox?

An equinox—when the sun shines directly over the Earth’s equator—occurs twice a year: in March (the Northern hemisphere’s spring equinox), and in September (the Fall equinox). This is possible because the Earth spins on a tilted axis; the changing axis of rotation throughout the year is also what causes seasons.

When is the Equinox, exactly?

The Fall Equinox will take place at 9:54pm Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, Sept. 22. This is technically when the Earth’s axis of rotation is such that sun is positioned directly above the equator.

Where does the name come from?

The word “Equinox,” derived from Latin, means “equal night.” During the Fall Equinox, there will be about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night in most places across the world, though it won’t be exactly equal.

Where should I go to enjoy it?

An equinox can be enjoyed from anywhere, of course. But if you’ve got some vacation days to burn, there are two spots in particular that make for good viewing.

Chichen Itza, Mexico: The ancient capital of the Yucatán Mayans is home to the Pyramid of Kukulkan, built about 1,000 years ago and named after a feathered snake god. Thanks to the Mayans’ advanced knowledge of math, astronomy, and architecture, the pyramid is designed so that on the equinoxes, sunlight and shadow create the illusion of a serpent’s body snaking down to connect with the head at the bottom.

Stonehenge, England: Druids and other followers of pagan religions will travel to the 5,000-year-old monument in Wiltshire to watch the sun rise above the stones. However, the Spring Equinox and summer solstice are much more popular times for people to flock to Stonehenge.

How is the Fall Equinox traditionally celebrated?

Celestial movements have been observed throughout history, and continue to have great cultural and religious significance. These are some of the major traditions that revolve around the Fall Equinox.

Mabon: Many witches observe this pagan festival in the Wheel of the Year, a calendar that symbolizes the turning of time and nature’s cycles, which celebrates the harvest of summer and prepares for the darkness of winter.

Mid-Autumn Festival: Otherwise known as the Moon Festival, China and Vietnam celebrate this on the full moon closest to the equinox, which is also the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Mooncakes and moongazing are in order.

Higan: This is a Buddhist holiday in Japan during both equinoxes. The period around the event is known as ohigan, which translates to “the other shore,” and is a time to remember the dead and visit their graves. 

Michaelmas: This Christian tradition, otherwise known as the Feast of Michael or All Angels, is associated with the beginning of fall because it falls near the equinox—nowadays, it is a minor festival observed by Catholics.

So I’ve heard…

An astral alignment is an extraordinary thing in and of itself, but some of the myths that result from it just aren’t true—even if they are partially based on fact.

Balancing an egg: There are rumors that you can perfectly balance an egg during the equinox because of celestial alignment, but this isn’t true (although you could probably balance an egg any time of the year if you tried hard enough). The myth probably dates back to the Chinese practice of egg-balancing on the Spring Equinox, to symbolize growth and fertility.

Disappearing shadows: Theoretically, if the sun is directly above you at noon while you are standing right on the equator, no shadow would be cast. But, as AccuWeather notes, the circumstances would have to be so perfect that they are basically impossible.